There have been a lot of very good games in this World Cup and there are likely to be many more, but don't expect this to be one of them. Nigeria haven't looked terribly creative in World Cup qualifying or warm-up friendlies, while Iran are almost certainly the most defensive team in this tournament. Remember how most of the games at the 2010 World Cup were slow and disjointed? Iran vs. Nigeria should be a lot like that.
That's not to say there's not talent here, though. Nigeria certainly have lots of it, and could force Iran to attempt to play soccer if they can score early. Victor Moses had a bad season at Liverpool, but he's still dangerous, while his forward mates Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike are in solid form. Iran's Ashkan Dejagah isn't bad either, while Reza Ghoochannejhad has a stunningly great goal record and Alireza Jahanbakhsh might surprise.
Ghosts of '94
Ghosts of '94
In their last friendly before heading to the World Cup, Nigeria lost left back Elderson Echiejile to injury. The drop-off from him to his likely replacement, Juwon Oshaniwa, is fairly significant. The other two spots up for grabs are on the wing and at the most advanced midfield spot -- expect Ramon Azeez and Ahmed Musa to start, denying Peter Odemwingie a spot in the starting XI.
Iran is locked down in the center of midfield and up top, but questions remain about their wide men and at fullback. It looks like Steven Beitashour is going to get the nod at right back, while Alireza Jahanbakhsh should win a place on the wing ahead of more experienced options.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Iran (4-4-1-1): Daniel Davari; Mehrdad Pooladi, Amir Sadeghi, Jalal Hosseini, Steven Beitashour; Masoud Shojaei, Jevad Nekounam, Andranik Teymourian, Alireza Jahanbakhsh; Ashkan Dejagah; Reza Ghoochannejhad.
Nigeria (4-3-3): Vincent Enyeama; Juwon Oshaniwa, Godfrey Obabona, Kenneth Omeruo, Efe Ambrose; John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi, Ramon Azeez; Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike, Ahmed Musa
Group F results
Group F results
Reza Ghoochannejhad vs. Nigeria's defense ... and midfield - Reza Ghoochannejhad's scoring record for Iran suggests he's a bit of a threat, but he's probably not going to see a ton of the ball. Of the teams in Group F, Nigeria is the one Iran can take the most risks against, but they're still going to play pretty defensively. Unless Ashkan Dejagah turns in a dominant two-way performance, he'll be isolated, and Iran will depend on him to make the most of his limited opportunities.
Ramon Azeez vs. Jevad Nekounam - Nigeria don't have a true attacking midfielder and Iran's whole team will play defensively, but these two will probably see a lot of each other. Nekounam is the leader in the center and Azeez will be the Nigerian midfielder with the most freedom. If he can't pressure Nekounam into turnovers or dribble past him going the other way, Nigeria might have a hard time creating chances.
Get ready for the first (and hopefully last) dull game of the World Cup. 0-0 draw.